See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." Jesus began to weep. (John 11:33-35)
The “Nimrod” movement from Edward Elgar’s orchestral work Enigma Variations. Liturgical processions. Stress. The hymn “Beautiful Savior.” The end of the movie “Big Fish.” The opening of the Broadway musical, The Lion King. Some TV shows, even some commercials. These are but a handful of things that move me to tears, the sort of tears that appear quietly and effortlessly, the sort of tears that are emotionally cleansing and easily wiped away.
In today’s readings we hear a lot about tears – about the tears that we cry in grief and the tears that God promises to wipe from our eyes. But the tears in today’s readings are deeper than the sentimental tears that we cry at touching moments of movies. They are the tears of weeping. They are the tears of pain and grief – the tears of death, of suffering, of loss, of fear.
All Saints Day gives us the opportunity to rejoice in all of God’s saints, past, present, and future. But it is a bittersweet rejoicing, and a difficult rejoicing, because we are being asked to rejoice in the midst of our grief. All Saints Day reminds us that we are eternally bound to the entire communion of faithful saints, and that Christ’s redemption secures for us eternal life together with all of these saints. But even as we are faced with the joy of eternal life, we are reminded of our mortality, and of the frailty of human life on this earth. All Saints Day asks us, in a profound and even difficult way, to face the reality of death, so that we can understand the fullness of God’s promises of resurrection.
Today’s Gospel does exactly that: faces the dark reality of death and grief, in order that we might see resurrection.
Lazarus has died, and we find Mary at Jesus’ feet, lamenting to him, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s a grief-stricken statement of faith. Mary doesn’t doubt that Jesus has the power to save, but she wonders out loud about his absence while Lazarus was at the point of death.
We read a long list of names at the beginning of worship today, remembering those saints in our lives who have gone before us. Some were young, some were old. For some of us, the grief is fresh, and for others, the grief is well-worn. Some of these passings were tragic and unexpected, others were perhaps more expected, though no less painful. But common to all of us, as we remember those who have passed on, is the sense that all of these people were taken from us too soon. We wish that God had stepped in and given us even another day with those that we love. We understand how Mary feels – if you had been here, Lord, these people near to us might not have died.
Jesus looks into Mary’s tear-stained face. He does not respond to her words, but instead he responds to her tears: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep.”
In seeing the grief and tears of those around him, Jesus was himself deeply moved, even to the point of tears. Here, in the midst of human grief, God wept. The divine word-made-flesh whose birth we will anticipate and celebrate over the next weeks did not dismiss human tears, but joined in them.
This is our first comfort: that death grieves God’s heart – death and all of its friends: brokenness, despair, pain, suffering, injustice, cruelty, disaster, loneliness, hopelessness.
I don’t know about you, but as for me, I need a God who can grieve. When we are going through dark times, it comforts me to know that we have a God who is willing to go through them with us. When we mourn the loss of loved ones, God mourns, too. When we suffer pain, God meets us in our suffering. When we despair of the future, God comes to find us. For God bore the grief of his own son’s death, so that we might live into his promise of life.
And so Jesus, weeping with those at the tomb, asks a simple and reassuring question of faith: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” These words of assurance come to us even in our darkest moments, reminding us that God is our hope, our light, and our glory.
This is our second comfort: Even when our nights are troubled and our days are dim, we have confidence that our faith will sustain us. And more than that, our faith is our source of light and life.
Turning to the tomb, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the darkness, and he who was dead was restored to life. In this act of resurrection, God tells us that he is not content merely to weep with us. It is God’s intent, in the last days, to return to us and wipe all our tears from our eyes. Lazarus for us is a symbol of that great feast spoken of in Isaiah: a feast celebrating that the God for whom we have waited is present among us, and a feast celebrating the passing away of death itself.
Lazarus is our promise that God’s kingdom will indeed come, and that we will someday see him face-to-face. Lazarus gives us confidence that we are already joined with all the saints in God’s kingdom, which has been won for us through Christ’s own death and resurrection. This is the source of our hope. Death may be real, but it is not final. Brokenness may be a part of our existence, but it is not a part of God’s plan.
This weekend marks a loss in the Lutheran world. Organist and composer Paul Manz passed away on Wednesday, in hospice care, at the age of 90. A lover of music and hymns, he was a church musician who devoted his life to the praise, worship and understanding of God through music. Perhaps his most famous work is the choral piece “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come,” which friends and family sung to him as he passed away:
Peace be to you and grace from Him who freed us from our sin
Who loved us all, and shed his blood that we might saved be.
Sing holy, holy to our Lord,
The Lord almighty God who was and is, and is to come,
Sing holy, holy Lord.
Rejoice in heaven, all ye that dwell therein, rejoice on earth, ye saints below
For Christ is coming, is coming soon; for Christ is coming soon.
E'en so Lord Jesus quickly come and night shall be no moreThese stirring words of faith and hope, even in the midst of death, remind us of today’s words in Revelation:
They need no light, no lamp, nor sun for Christ will be their All!
"See, the home of God is among mortals.This is the good news that we celebrate on All Saints Day: that Christ will come again, in the fullness of God’s power and glory, to restore us all to everlasting light and life. The God who weeps with us is also the God who will take away our pain and grief. The creator of the world will bring us into new creation. We will, with all the saints, rejoice, for we will no longer need light, nor lamp, nor sun. We will rejoice, for Christ will be our all.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."